Genealogical research does not always end with the compilation of a family tree. The desire for a colorfully illustrated tree of life often inspires the dream of putting specific faces to the names one has found, investigating more closely the lives of one’s ancestors, and following up each life story.
This quest cannot be satisfied merely with the simple records found in birth, marriage, and death registers. One must search for historical causes, learn more about the economic and social situation of a particular time in history, and, in particular, explore the history of the Jewish community in a specific country.
During the past ten years, an increasing number of Bohemian and Moravian archivists and historians have focused their interest on the history of the Jews in the Czech lands. Most attention has been devoted to the events of World War II and the Shoah of Czech Jewry. In addition, many publications have appeared that chronicle the history of Czech Jewry from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The work of archivists has been aimed primarily at opening up hitherto unused archival sources found in the course of routine professional activities. A review of the literature on the history of Jews and Jewish communities in the Czech lands over the past decade appears in an article by the author: “History of the Jews and Jewish Communities in the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries in Czech Popular Educational and Specialist Literature of the Last Decade.” Judaica Bohemiae XL, 2004, pages 277–90.
Since 2005, the Society for the History of Jews in the Czech Republic, headed by historian Helmut Teufel, has directed and supported the project. Members of the project have undertaken research into a number of archives in the Czech Republic and have covered all sources from the period 1520–1670 with any relevance to the Jewish inhabitants. This method of research is time consuming and expensive, but extremely effective, and after many years of intensive research, now is bringing good results. The archival documents discovered are processed in the following form:
- A full transcription is made of all documents that fall into specific categories, such as significant privileges, deeds and letters, and important records in official registers that deal primarily with the Jewish population. In these cases, the full text of each document is transcribed and supplemented with a short summary of the content; texts in German are transliterated.
- A partial transcription supplemented by an extended summary is provided for all documentary sources created primarily to record events relevant to the Christian population, but which mention Jews in passing; these include registers of serf obligations, censuses, tax registers, financial papers, account books, and general correspondence.
- A brief summary of the contents and the precise archival reference is provided for each archival source that already exists in other editions duplicate sources in other collections dated outside the primary period of interest or not important for the history of the Jewish people.
This approach to processing the documents complies with the principles of producing a scholarly edition of archival sources. The edition of documents also includes footnotes, references to other editions of documents, and secondary literature about the documentary sources. In addition, all information about Jewish individuals mentioned in the documentary sources—name, gender, occupation, family relationships, place of origin, and archival reference—are recorded in a parallel electronic database (an Excel file) designed to permit statistical and demographic analyses.
Archival sources written in Hebrew have been reproduced, indexed, and submitted to Hebrew specialists to transcribe and translate. The same process has been applied to any Jewish seals discovered on the documents. Part of the edition of a number of these archival sources consists of photographs of Jewish seals and Hebrew texts.
The archival research underlying the project has been financed by public sources (supplied by foundations and grants) and by donations from private individuals. Results of intensive research currently underway in Moravian archives gradually are being posted to the website of the Society for the History of the Jews at <www.BMSJ.edu>. This website has two versions, one in German and one in Czech. An English-language version is planned for the introductory and associated texts, while the edition itself will reproduce the language used in the original sources (either Czech or German). At present, the website makes available archival files from eight archives, primarily in Moravia. Information on the documentary sources is under development. If finances and the time of the researchers permit, additional documentary collections will be included from Czech archives and, in the case of Silesia, from Polish archives.
The <www.BMSJ.edu> website has two levels—a public level and a fee-paying level. The public level provides access to the introductory and associated texts concerning the archives and collections, a summary of a number of documentary sources, and the Excel files that function as indexes. The website’s fee-paying level offers, in return for payment of a user fee, unlimited access to the editions of all the documentary sources that have been collected. The funds raised through website fees will be used for collection of additional archival information on the Jewish population of the Czech lands.
A number of censuses of the Jewish population of the Czech lands have been located and made available by this project. They are among the most valuable historical sources, not only for historical demography and statistics, but also for genealogical studies. These censuses and lists are presented in a special group of documents under the heading “Lists of Jews.” They include surveys and lists compiled by order of the manorial authorities and the state (such as censuses and tax cadasters). The documents included in this group include, at minimum, the names of Jews settled in each locality. For later periods, such lists include much more relevant information about the property and occupations of the Jews listed. More important for genealogical research are the vital events and information concerning wives, children, and other family members.
A primary aim of this project is to make public the lists from the 17th to the 19th centuries and to fill the gap in documentary sources for genealogical research after 1670. These editions of the lists of the Jewish population are fully accessible upon payment of a registration fee.
The first page of the website has basic information relating to the project; Seznam archivů (Survey of the archives) publishes all processed sources by archive and archival collections. Click on an archive’s name to obtain information about that archive and its collections that have been investigated for the project’s purposes. Clicking on an archival collection’s name takes one to information about the specific archival files and the Excel tables that function in place of indexes. Clicking on an inventory number will provide additional information useful for identifying the archival source. This portion of the survey is public and accessible free of charge; the second part of the survey of archives with transcriptions of text of various documentary sources with footnotes and bibliographical data is accessible once one pays a registration fee.